Ur-vlogger and Boosted Board spokesthing Casey Neistat scored unprecedented access to a member of YouTube's senior executive team. The resulting interview was warmed-over PR and a book plug.
All image: Casey Neistat/YouTube
Calling out YouTube for its weak response to the (first) Logan Paul controversy last week, Neistat described himself as "completely unsatisfied by" the company's insubstantial Twitter thread, in which "they didn't answer the questions that I had as a creator". YouTube over the years has managed to be bested only by Twitter when it comes to poor communication with users, and Neistat tapped into that justifiable frustration by requesting an on-the-record interview with the platform's second-in-command, Chief Business Officer Robert Kyncl.
"I didn't share any of my questions [...] ahead of time," Neistat stated in a vlog previewing the interview, as a prelude to what we're to believe is a hard-hitting and adversarial interaction. He even claims Kyncl (off camera) agreed to answer questions on any topic, and that in preparation Neistat enlisted the aid of professional journalists as well as vloggers to draft those questions. Given the circumstances, how could this be anything short of a slam dunk?
Over the 19 minutes of footage - edited down from who knows how long - Neistat is content to take every vague response from Kyncl at face value, never asking a follow-up question or demanding specificity. He's either never spoken to an executive with media training before or doesn't care that his long, meandering questions give Kyncl every opportunity to respond in generalities.
The closest Neistat gets to a specific question pertains to YouTube's tacic endorsement of Logan Paul's now-infamous suicide forest video:
Neistat: How did it land on the homepage?
Kyncl: I think you have... there are no simple answers to that, except that there was a lot of interest in that video. There were a lot of searches for it all around the world on YouTube, and it ended up there.
Here are some things a journalist - or even a YouTube creator who had been paying attention to this issue - might have asked in response.
- What signals besides search does YouTube rely on to determine the trending videos for each country?
- At what steps of that process is there human oversight?
- Your boss, CEO Susan Wojcicki, claimed YouTube would employ 10,000 human moderators this year. How many currently work to review videos?
- If you can't define how a video with preferred advertising that makes light of suicide ends up in the trending section of the platform, why should advertisers have any confidence in YouTube?
You might even have other questions in mind! Those are just a for-instance.
Instead, Neistat moves on, asking some other tepid question off his clipboard about the length of time between Paul's upload and the company's response on Twitter. About 15 very uneventful minutes later the interview ends with Neistat, apparently of his own volition and goodwill, plugging Kyncl's Streampunks - a book about YouTube, a platform that earlier in the interview Kyncl admitted he had never used commercially.
There's a reason nothing was off limits in this interview, and it's because Kyncl inferred that there wouldn't be any challenges before he even got in the room: Neistat is a salesman - and a good one at that. He raised $US2 million ($2.5 million) for an app no one wanted or used, then turned around and sold it (and himself) to CNN for $US25 million ($32 million), only to avoid those new responsibilities without delivering. This interview, similarly sold on the promise of authenticity, was no different.
That said, if you want to do better next time, Casey, you live in New York - there's no shortage of out-of-work journalists who would love to help.